Dr. Terril Nell, AAF, is the 2023 inductee into the Society of American Florists’ Floriculture Hall of Fame, the floral industry’s highest honor. The induction ceremony took place on September 9 during the Stars of the Industry Awards Recognition at the organization’s 138th Annual Convention.
The Floriculture Hall of Fame recognizes the highest standards of service and professional responsibility in members of the floral industry. Inductees have been instrumental in creating significant and lasting improvements or innovations for the industry.
Dr. Nell’s contributions to the advancement of floriculture and horticulture and his tireless advocacy for floral research and funding exemplify his dedication to the industry throughout the past 60 years.
The preeminent expert on postharvest care and handling of flowering potted plants and cut flowers, Nell co-authored the Society of American Florists’ Flower and Plant Care Manual and has been a frequent columnist for Floral Management magazine. He’s steadfastly advocated for floral research and funding and held numerous leadership positions, most notably SAF President and Director of Research for the American Floral Endowment (AFE).
Nell spent 35 years as a professor at the University of Florida, chairing its Environmental Horticulture Department from 1991 to 2012. In 1983, he developed the UF Postharvest program, which concentrated on a potted plant and cut flower performance for growers, shippers, wholesale and retail florists, and interior plantscapers. His research results and work have led to the development of best practices that improve flower and plant longevity. Beyond his university research, Nell has been an industry consultant for growers, wholesalers, and retailers for over 40 years.
In the late 1990s, Nell was instrumental in lobbying for the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative, which plays a critical role in generating scientific research on high-priority issues affecting all segments of the floral industry. “Once Terrill gave testimony before Congress, he attracted the interest of the USDA Agricultural Research Service administrator, who suggested funding go through his agency,” recalls Marvin Miller, Ph.D., market research manager at Ball Horticultural Company. “Today, industry researchers from both the USDA and academia benefit from millions of dollars provided annually by the FNRI.”
Since retiring from UF in 2012, Nell has served as the Director of Research for the American Floral Endowment. In this role, he serves as the liaison to the FNRI while also collaborating with the Horticulture Research Institute, AmericanHort, the Specialty Crop Research Institute, and other government-funded agencies to support their work for the industry. He also oversees research funding projects. In 2017, he initiated a special research fund to combat Thrips and Botrytis, which have been devastating to floral crops. Raising $1.5 million for this special project, he’s managed and overseen more than 15 projects dedicated to tackling these pests, which has helped develop new protocols for growers to reduce losses.
Throughout his career, Nell has been an active member and leader in numerous industry organizations. Besides his tenure as SAF’s president, he has also served on the association’s Growers Council, as well as its Government Relations and Awards Committees. He served as Chairman of SAFPAC, its political action committee, significantly increasing the number of donors and financial support. He served as the UF liaison with the Florida Nursery and Grower’s Association, Florida Turfgrass Association, Association of Floral Importers of Florida, Florida Sod Growers Cooperative, and the Florida Golf Course Superintendents Association. He’s published hundreds of articles, both for academic journals and industry magazines, and has been a featured speaker at countless industry events.
A few of Nell’s many accolades include SAF’s Paul Ecke, Jr. Award and Hall of Fame membership with the Florida State Florists Association, the International Fresh Produce Association, Florida Nursery Grower Landscape Association, and AmericanHort Interior Plantscape.
“It’s hard to pinpoint his greatest influence on the industry,” says Ken Young, AAF, CEO of Phoenix Flower Shops and AFE Chairman. “He’s most known for his research and teaching, but he’s devoted so much personal time, even since retiring from academia. He’s collaborated with many organizations to solve challenges in pests and diseases and, has traveled the world as a consultant to retailers, wholesalers, and growers, and served on countless advisory committees and boards. He still attends every major industry event. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of walking a trade show with him, you feel like you are with a celebrity. Everyone knows and respects Terril.”
AFE Executive Director Debi Chedester, AAF, also applauded Nell’s interpersonal skills. “You don’t survive in this industry without building relationships,” she says. “Terril is able to address challenges and provide counsel in a respectful way to faculty, researchers, and professionals to promote growth and solidarity. He fosters connections between universities and floral business owners, gathering data on the industry’s most pressing needs and sharing it with researchers to solve them.”
David Clark, Ph.D., a professor of horticulture biotechnology and genetics at the University of Florida, described Nell as “the most positive influence” on his career. “I can’t think of anyone who’s more deserving of the Floriculture Hall of Fame,” he says. “I’ve known Terrill for almost 30 years, and in that time, I’ve seen him wear a lot of different hats, including scientist, mentor, lobbyist, and friend.”